Judy wandered through the park, past joggers and couples walking their dogs. Her back ached from sitting in her office chair all day, and she just wanted to go home. But Ken had his friends there, helping home move. Taking his half-packed boxes and all of their furniture and leaving the apartment something alien. She remembered how it had echoed when she first moved in.
She wandered into the trees. She tried to let the whisper of their leaves sooth her, but she’d never been one for the soothing power of nature. She glanced at her phone. No messages, and Ken would be another hour, at least. He’d promised to call when he was done, but he’d promised so many things. She kept walking.
Cheerful music floated on the breeze, and she followed it, weaving through tree trunks and hopping over a small stream. As she grew closer, she expected to find a crowd, but the woods remained deserted. She came into a clearing, and in the center stood a carousel. Bare green light bulbs twinkled from its blue canopy, and chiming music chorused from its barrel organ. Fresh paint gleamed on the leaping horses and silver bars, and the body of the carousel was lined with bright mirrors.
It was perfect.
A tiny old woman smiled and waved her over. “Hello there, child. Would you like to ride the carousel?”
Her dark face was creased with smile lines, and she smelled like funnel cake and powdered sugar. Her eyes were the same green as the carousel lights.
Judy nodded—she loved carousels. “How much is it?”
“For you, just a smile.”
“Oh,” Judy said. “I’m not sure if I can manage that. It’s been a bad day.”
“That happens to the best of us. You can pay after, dear. Hop on.”
There were no other riders and no reason for the carousel to be there, but Judy stepped up onto the platform anyway. If things could fall apart for no reason, then maybe she could just have this. Maybe there was a tiny bit of balance in the world.
The wood creaked beneath her feet. She wandered among the wooden mounts, trailing her fingers along slick paint. She chose a gray horse with purple flowers twined into its darker mane and tale. She swung herself onto its back and rested her cheek against the cool metal pole.
She closed her eyes and the carousel moved. Her horse leaped forward, up and down, and around in the never-ending loop. The music surrounded her, twinkling note upon twinkling note.
She glanced into the mirror, and saw her reflection distorted by the curve of the carousel’s body. The boots that she bought because Ken liked them, the jeans she wore because they’d been a gift from his mother. The purse that his sister had made.
She used to wear sandals and skirts and only carry what fit in her pockets.
She ran her fingers over her horse’s painted neck and realized that she wouldn’t have any trouble filling the space that Ken would leave behind.
Her horse slowed, then stopped. She dismounted. “Can I go again?” she asked.
She chose another horse, this one deep black with a red saddle and ribbons in his mane. She examined the blue sky painted on the canopy’s underside. She reached out to touch the fluffy painted clouds, but never got quite close enough.
She rode until the green lights lit and fireflies flickered in the trees. She stepped off of the platform smiling.
“There now, that’s better,” the old woman said.
“Who are you?” Judy asked.
“Just a travelling carousel, dear.”
“Will I be able to find you again?”
“If you need to. Just follow the music.”
“I will. Thank you.”
When Judy looked back, the carousel was gone. But if she listened, she could still hear twinkling notes on the breeze.
Judy went to her apartment, and set to making it a home.
Jamie Lackey lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and cat. Her fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and the Stoker Award-winning After Death… She’s a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Her short story collection, One Revolution, is available on Amazon.com. Find her online at www.jamielackey.com.